I once heard famed comedy writer Larry Gelbart say this of a part he was looking to cast: “I’m looking for someone who can open a door funny as opposed to open a funny door.” In my opinion, few lay claim to the ability to both with equal success. Will Ferrell is one of them. He’s an actor who’s fame and success make him seem older, more seasoned, as if he’s been around for four decades. In reality, it’s only been two. “Get Hard” marks twenty years and thirty-fives movies of Ferrell since his debut on “Saturday Night Live.” Let’s do a countdown of his top ten career performances.
10) “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” (2001), Ricky Bobby
Will Ferrell’s acting is not necessarily measured by how convincing he is as a certain character. I’ve never seen him in a movie and forgot it was him, become completely lost in the film. He’s too recognizable, too steeped in himself. As Ricky Bobby, he dons a racing suit and a southern accent and basically plays himself. It is, however, a hilarious role. He doesn’t shoot for the stars and rarely pulls off anything great, but he always manages to carry movies that would otherwise become grating and insultingly unoriginal.
Frank is not much different than anything from the SNL stock Will Ferrell has made a career of repeating. The skin is different, but what’s inside remains the same. It’s one of his better movies overall. Wilson and Vaughn are strong in their respective roles, and it’s relatively original, at least enough to avoid reminding us too much of “Animal House.” Once again, Ferrell just carries the film. His personality is too strong to allow any movie he’s in to completely fail, and I’ll always have something positive to say about him.
8) “Zoolander” (2001), Mugatu
Ferrell plays the goofiness to perfection as Mugatu; essentially, he’s the inmate who doesn’t know he’s crazy. In a film designed to be dumb, he is supremely dumb, but his, and the movie’s, self awareness allows it to reach the extent of the audience’s flexibility. It doesn’t try anything it can’t get away with. Ferrell’s contribution should not be understated, though. Mugatu is an underrated role for him; it feels as if it should be iconic.
7) “Everything Must Go” (2010), Nick Halsey
Ferrell’s second true dramatic role. The movie is nothing special, and it does little to avoid the territory of the quirky indie comedy that we’ve seen dozens of time before. Nothing too special about it, but Ferrell is enjoyable, quiet without being too quiet, perfectly balancing comedy and drama without coming off as overly cloying and cheesy.
“The Lego Movie” was one of the most shocking movies I saw last year, not because it was graphic, not because of the content, but because my expectations were absolutely, unequivocally shattered. It turned out to be the most fun I’ve had at a theater in a long time. What surprised me the most was the performance of Will Ferrell, first as Lord Business, then as The Man Upstairs. With his brief screen time Ferrell manages to mold a fully realized character. It’s movies like this that make me think he’s been holding back all these years. He makes an impression quickly and effectively and does a lot with a little.
5) “The Other Guys” (2010), Allen Gamble
It’s surprisingly enjoyable watching Ferrell share screen time with Mark Wahlberg. The two are terrific here, and manage to elevate the movie above the generic buddy-cop fare; it’s the antithesis of “The Heat” with Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy. Allen Gamble allows Ferrell to play straight his usual game and offer us small, nearly imperceptible glimpses of the dramatic actor lurking inside him. One gets the feeling that, given the right straight man role ala Jim Carrey, Ferrell could really shine.
4) “Step Brothers” (2008), Brennan Huff
Ferrell is at his best when paired with John C. Reilly. They share a bizarre chemistry, and as two foul-mouthed man-children, they’re hilarious. It’s not revolutionary acting, but Ferrell is great at playing to what the movie requires, and it rarely requires anything beyond his usual shtick of cursing, farting, and generally being an immature dunce. But hey, it works. You can’t blame him for going back to the well. Nevertheless, few comedians are better at making funny what would otherwise be intolerable, and “Step Brothers” is no exception.
The eminently quotable “Anchorman” features an outstanding cast, every actor capable of being the lead in his or her own movie. It’s Ferrell’s Ron Burgundy, though, after which the film is named, and through which the film moves. Burgundy is an idiot and a child, yet Ferrell keeps him in bounds, grounds him when all the writers want to do is send him floating into space. It’s a turn of insane energy, keeping the movie going well past its point of no return.
2) “Stranger Than Fiction” (2006), Harold Crick
There’s always buzz surrounding a dramatic film when a comedian occupies the lead role. Previous to “Stranger Than Fiction,” Ferrell had never taken a real risk, making dumb comedy after dumb comedy (which he excels at). This film displays his full range as an actor, the comedic played against droll drama to perfection. He’s played stupid before, but never so realistically, and never so effectively.
“Elf” is a film that hinges on the performance of its lead actor, Ferrell, and it’s a role that could have easily overstayed its welcome. Ferrell, though, hits the right notes all the way through. He plays naiveté without being too dumb, heartfelt without being too schmaltzy, endearing without being too cloying. The childish buoyancy becomes infectious enough that we come to ignore the Christmas movie clichés. Jon Favreu lends a deft hand to the material, and what we get is one of the best holiday movies of recent memories, as well as the finest performance of Ferrell’s career.
Article by Lucas Dispoto